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Posts Tagged ‘Social issues’

Bus wars

When the so called atheist bus took the streets a few months ago many people felt that the word ‘probably’ was redundant.

In their website the campaigners explained that the Committee of Advertising Practice advised the campaign that “the inclusion of the word ‘probably’ makes it less likely to cause offence, and therefore be in breach of the Advertising Code”.

Now, this would be fine if wasn’t because the new ‘Christian’ buses that are popping out all  over London these days seem to not be following the same prerequisite. In fact some of these ‘Christian’ buses are calling atheists fools and claims in others cannot actually been proven.

And so I ask myself, why does the Advertisement Standards Agency have such a double standard in this case?

christian-bendybus
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As the expansion is given the green light by the DfT I cannot but amaze myself at the colourful coalition of people opposing it: John McDonnell, Boris Johnson, Emma Thompson, Zac Goldsmith…. So I thought that Forgesian Thinking should also add its two pence to the debate. So here we go…

I am supportive on the expansion on three accounts:

– If London is to continue to be a true global ‘meeting point’, Heathrow needs to remain one of the top three world airports. It is essential. If you fly into Amsterdam you are not going to then take a train to London, you’ll do your business there, plus they already speak very good English.

– Building a completely new airport somewhere else, another BBI (Brilliant Boris’ idea), would be very costly, you don’t need just the runway but also a terminal plus other servicing builidings and infrastructure. It also involves creating noise pollution in a completely different new area (I know this point is no consolation to Heathrow residents though).

– From a logistics point of view, it is more efficient to have on hub rather than several of them dispersed, plus less road pollution will be created. This is also true for passengers travelling from and to the airport.

The real issue about climate change is not about stopping Heathrow’s expansion. Heathrow’s flights are generally long distance flights, meaning you either fly or you simply can’t get to your destination. If climate change campaigners would like to make a real difference they should be focusing all their efforts on low-fare airlines and airports. Encouraging high-speed rail so short flights to Europe can be replaced by train journeys.

Heathrow is not an environmental issue but a local residents’ one. That is a fair fight. The spat today between Geoff Hoon and Emma Thompson best illustrates the not very convincing climate change argument.

As Hoon accused her of opposing the expansion while flying around the world as an actress, Thompson replied:

“Get a grip Geoff. This is not a campaign against flying – we’re trying to stop the expansion of Heathrow in the face of climate change.

“It sounds like the transport secretary has completely missed the point. Again.”

I don’t even know what that means. Flying produces climate change, one stops flying,  climate change is reduced, as simple as that. That is the problem with the climate change-base anti-expansion campaign, it’s trying to achieve the squaring of the circle. And Cameron’s Tory leadership is once more at its populist best encouraging the nonsense.

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The tabloid press has been waging a campaign against asylum seekers in Britain for quite a while now. They might say that it isn’t against “genuine” asylum seekers it is aimed at, but nevertheless they have helped inhibit British society from what it is for most of these people a painful and certainly life-threatening experience.

News coming today from Australia are just a clear example of the realities of asylum-seeking and how solidarity should not be subdued to populist sentiments fuelled by fear and prejudice. Freedom is a highly appreciated British value, let’s not let our fears stop it protecting other people around the world.

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The far left criticised New Labour for being too liberal, Cameron cannot stop repeating his ‘broken society’ soundbite…but today the OECD has published a report that shows that since 2000 the UK has reduced income inequality and poverty more than any other member of the organisation.

Needless to say there is still a long way to go, but certainly Labour is the way forward to build on those foundations.

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In praise of India

Today the 9th EU-India summit has kicked off in Marseille. As a student of South Asian affairs I would like to mark this event with a little reflection on India as one of the great hopes for our world in the 21st century.

When I arrived at SOAS to study politics I had to decide which region in Asia or Africa I wanted to specialise in. I had lived in China for two years so I already had a relative head start on East Asian history so that seemed like the safest choice. However there was something about South Asia, and specially India, which intrigued me, cultural pluralism.

India is home to 1.13 billion people, 21 official languages, 1,652 dialects and a vast number of different religious groups. India is so heteregoneous culturally that is hard to understand how such a vast country with such a tumultous history has been able to stay united and democratic since its independence for 61 years. The answer to that question is constitutional patriotism. The idea that the Indian nation, formed by all Indians without exception, is rooted in a set of common democratic values. In the privacy of his home one can follow his customs but once out in public a set of common rules are followed so to guarantee equality and social harmony. That unspoken value of respect and sacrifice for the common good shared by all Indians is what has kept the nation together and what fascinates me about this country.

But that’s not all, together with that sense of social responsibility comes one of political responsibility. Despite high economic growth during the years of BJP rule the lack of redistribution of that wealth was punished in the ballot box by India’s rural communities that put the Congress Party, and the current PM, Manmohan Singh, in power. India has kept growing but its people has let the political class know that the Chinese model of fast growth with complete disregard for its social impact isn’t going to happen there.

India’s past and present isn’t perfect. Poverty and social conflicts still exist within and the Kashmir and northeastern conflicts still cast a shadow over the future of the country. But a country that is able to elect a Muslim President and a Sikh PM, despite the fact that 800 million out of 1 billion of its citizens are Hindu, is to be admired and its unity in diversity celebrated.

And what issue is more important today to us in the West, at a time when our societies are becoming culturally more plural, than to build a common identity that belongs to us all but at the same time respects and celebrates our rich cultural diversity.

Europe can learn a lot from India and it is time for us to have a serious look at a country that despite all its defects and challenges is emerging as probably one of the most stable and admired nations in the new world order.

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With the whole Miliband affair going on the news that Keir Starmer has been appointed as the new director of public prosecutions hasn’t been properly looked at.

Apparently some bloggers have not warmed up to the idea of a progressive human rights’ barrister taking over the position of DPP (why is it the MSM seems to be unable to link up to blogs when quoting them so we know the source?). I take a very different view.

As a social democrat I am a strong defender of civil liberties, an area where I extremely disagree with this Labour government’s policies. With growing social insecurity whether from international terrorism or youth violence popular support for some of the government’s policies have worried me in the past (42 days detention being a pretty clear example). The appointment of Starmer, a barrister with a solid record on the field of human rights and a reputation for standing his ground, I believe the more intrusive character of the government will be balanced out by him.

So all in all I welcome Keir Starmer’s appointment and think it’s great news for the British judicial system as well. Civil liberties and the right to privacy are the new legal frontier and an independent and progressive DPP will help guarantee those rights that are so important to British society independently of the present political and security environment.

You can read Starmer’s profile in the Grauniad here.

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The so-called Maroni census, named after Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, is the latest and gravest attempt in Europe to haunt inmigrants and violate their human rights.

The Maroni census created by the Berlusconi government aims at recording the identities of all Gypsies in Italy, but not just their identity also their ethnicity and religion. The census is an specific attempt to control the Gypsy community in Italy, both national and foreigners, and discriminate them for their ethnicity despite the Italian Constitution, and the EU charter for that matter, guarantee of equality independently of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc.

The Maroni census is the last example of ‘paranoia Europe’. Tougher laws that gamble with basic human rights both within the new European directive and national governments’ legislation. While the economic boom was happening we well used inmigrants to provide cheap labour and take care of our elderly, children and clean our houses. But when the bust has arrived we are being so ungrateful to those same people; we have made them scapegoats of an economic model we built and enjoyed.

It’s easy to attack inmigrants because they have no political voice in Europe. They are politically speaking second class citizens. Anti-immigration rhetoric is popular with natives and it doesn’t hurt because inmigrants don’t vote. Maybe it’s time to change that. The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) had its federal convention this past weekend in Madrid. The delegates approved a proposal to allow non-EU inmigrants residing in Spain to vote in local and regional elections. I applaud this action. The right to vote for legal inmigrants will show political parties that pseudo-racist and xenophobic populism has an electoral cost, moreover the inmigrant communities will gain a certain level of political power for their communities to be taken into account rather than marginalised (think of the French banlieus here).

An inmigration vote is the best thing that could happen to a Europe who was once proud of its openness. If inmigrants were to vote our politicians will think twice about using inmigration to manipulate the electorate. How are we to lecture other nations on human rights if we are unable to respect them ourselves?

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